A blogger who posted criticism of the Vietnamese government on Facebook was handed a suspended 15-month prison sentence by a court in the southern province of Long An.
Dinh Nhat Uy, 30, said he was convicted of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state. He used Facebook to campaign for the release of his younger brother, imprisoned for using social media for political commentary, according to Human Rights Watch. Uy, who was arrested June 15, faced a three-year prison sentence.
Vietnam’s Communist government has jailed bloggers and activists it accuses of spreading anti-government propaganda while passing an Internet decree that has drawn international criticism for stifling online expression. In August a coalition of 21 governments said the Internet law may threaten the country’s push to develop its technology industry.
Uy said he will appeal the conviction. “I am not happy about the verdict,” he said in a phone interview yesterday after being released from jail. “They said what I posted on Facebook is not the truth and hurt the rights of some party members and some big companies.”
The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi is “encouraged” that Uy’s sentence was suspended, while the verdict is a “politically motivated conviction,” it said in a statement today. “We call on the government to release unconditionally all prisoners of conscience and allow all Vietnamese to express their political views,” it said.
This is the first time Facebook has specifically been mentioned in such charges, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “It is a bit of a challenge to Facebook,” he said by phone from Bangkok. “Freedom of expression was in the dock.”
Facebook Inc. did not respond to a request for comment sent in an e-mail to company headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Officials of the court in Long An province could not be immediately reached for comment.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last year ordered a crackdown on blogs that have attacked his leadership at a time of sluggish economic growth and banks weighed down by bad debt tied to state-owned enterprises.
Vietnam has imprisoned 62 bloggers and activists on charges of violating national security laws so far this year, according to Human Rights Watch. In 2012, there were 40 such cases in Vietnam that Human Rights Watch could confirm, Robertson said.
“Part of this is a reaction to the greater use of the Internet and social media by Vietnam’s civil society to express views,” he said. “People are organizing online.”
Uy said he is “willing to do whatever I can for the nation. If I don’t do anything wrong, I’m not afraid if the government is watching. Of course, I’m under a suspended jail term so I’m still worried. But I have many friends and other people fighting for the right reason, so I’m not scared anymore.”
Uy, who is free to move around, must report regularly to authorities, said Ha Huy Son, his lawyer. If he commits another violation, the suspension will be canceled and Uy will face 15 months in jail, Son said by phone yesterday.
The conviction follows the sentencing in early October of dissident lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan to 30 months in jail on tax evasion charges. The U.S. Embassy called the conviction “disturbing” and said he was imprisoned for expressing political views.
Vietnam’s government has also been criticized by the U.S., other countries and international technology companies for implementing a law Sept. 1 that restricts blogging and social networking and raises concerns that websites may have to provide the government access to users’ data.
The decree prohibits the use of the Internet to harm national security, incite ethnic or religious violence and disclose “secrets” related to the government, army and economy.
John Ure, executive director of the Asia Internet Coalition, which represents Google Inc., Facebook, Yahoo Inc., eBay Inc. and Salesforce.com Inc., said his group would not comment directly on Uy’s case.
“We believe firmly in the rights of people to use the Internet for legitimate reasons, to express their opinions,” he said by phone from Singapore. “Anything that unduly restricts the use of the Internet we think is self-defeating.”